Assessing the “Division of the Day”

Williams takes pride in its “Division of the Day” policy, which restricts classes to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 7-9:30 p.m. on Mondays. A closer examination of the meeting times, however, reveals that most students are subject to unfortunate conflicts, and applying a little more attention and a little more common sense to scheduling – principally through the Calendar and Scheduling Committee (CSC), the Activities office and the Steering Committee—could dramatically alleviate this problem.

Last year, the faculty voted to move the evening class time slot from Tuesday to Monday. Regardless of whether one agrees with this change, it is imperative that lectures or forums not compete with the 11 classes taking place between 7 and 9:30 p.m. Student groups such as MinCo and the Outing Club were quick to move their Monday meeting times in order to ensure that all board members could participate fully in their organizations without sacrificing classes. Sensitive to the new class time, College-sponsored activities, like the Gaudino Forum, switched from Monday to Tuesday nights. Yet, just last night there was a forum, “Terrorism and Our War Against It,” as well as two winter study travel informational meetings at 7:30 p.m., clearly coinciding with the “K” class section. While the forum surely appealed to many, it was unavailable to those interested students who had class.

Officially, “Division of the Day” delineates when classes take place by blocking off the academic portion of the day. Traditionally, athletic teams receive the 4 to 6 p.m. period for team practices. Currently, most student-faculty committees and departmental committees meet at 4 p.m. Though it is impossible to project how many athletes desire to serve on these groups, the oft-heard lament that athletes are not involved in non-athletic parts of the community may be partly based on scheduling rather than on actual sentiment.

It would benefit the entire college community to rethink “Division of the Day” as it currently stands. We recommend the creation of an open two-hour block free from classes or practices. This way, committees would truly be open to the community as a whole and college-wide forums held at this time could be attended by all interested. Doing so may not be easy as it would require overhauling a schedule that currently presides upon 2000 students and hundreds of faculty, administrators and staff. This may be difficult, complicated and frustrating, but, it can and should be done.

Along with evaluating the overall “Division of the Day” policy, the CSC needs to pay closer attention to the details of scheduling classes within the academic block. Presently department chairs allocate time slots to their faculty members and the schedule is sent to the CSC for approval. A quick glance at this fall’s class list sorted by time exposes a remarkably unbalanced schedule. Fifty-nine classes are held during the Tuesday/Thursday 9:55 a.m. “M” block, 53 in the combined “D” and “P” slots (both beginning at 11:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays), 41 in the Tuesday/Thursday 11:20 a.m. “N” block and 40 in the Monday/Thursday 1:10 p.m. “R” block. The most unpopular class times are, not unexpectedly, Monday/Wednesday/Friday 8:00 a.m. (4 classes), Monday 7:00 p.m. (11 classes) and Monday/Wednesday/Friday 12:00 p.m. (12 classes). These low-end outliers are unsurprising as few students like to attend class early in the morning, during lunch or at night. However, what is more disconcerting is the range between Monday/Thursday and Tuesday/Friday1:10 classes (40:21) and 2:35 classes (28:14). Like with class times, these can be at least partially explained by student (and likely faculty) disinterest in Friday afternoon classes with everyone anxious to begin their weekends.

Yet, this is not a valid reason to have twice the number of classes on certain days of the week. Some might argue that such conflicts reduce over-enrollment by forcing students to choose between classes; the Registrar’s Office could compare initial enrollment figures of classes offered by the same professor at different times to see whether this is true. It would certainly be interesting to know if there is any correlation between time slots and enrollment, be it as a result of course competition or dislike of class hours. Judging by student sentiment when registering for classes, however, Friday afternoon classes seem to deter many potential takers. Thus by moving some classes to the “T” or “U” time periods, professors may be able to weed out less committed students and keep class sizes down.

Beyond re-juggling time assignments, the CSC needs to spend more time reviewing the submitted schedules. For example, this semesters’ popular “BIOL 133: Biology of Exercise and Nutrition” and “PSYC 242: Social Psychology” courses are both taught at 9:55 a.m. The course description for the former says enrollment will be capped at 200; not only were many dropped from the class but, according to the registrar’s website, only 130 students are presently enrolled, far fewer than the course book suggests. There are 139 people in Social Psychology, which uses Bronfman Auditorium; were both of these classes not offered at the same time, each could use Bronfman Auditorium, enabling both to reach their caps. While it is not possible for the CSC to scrutinize each class and ensure it is offered in the best possible time slot and location, it is not unreasonable to ensure large classes competing for the same space are not offered at the same time. Much like art studio classes must be scheduled to avoid overlap of studio space, other classes should be coordinated to offer students the widest possible variety from which to choose.

Many tough decisions compose the unavoidable myriad choices Williams students must make, but this long list need not comprise as many choices between committees and athletics, meetings and academics, and even between popular classes as it currently does. Scheduling shortcomings should not be impossible to solve. The issues in scheduling neither result from inherent structural problems nor from deliberate laziness, but from ill-considered and thoroughly entrenched bad habits. No amount of effort or ingenuity will eliminate all difficult choices between classes and activities, but a little effort and common sense can significantly reduce their number.